Over the past few years, horror has had somewhat of a resurgence. Gone are the days when cheap scares and overly indulgent gore could satiate movie-goers; if you’re going to scare in 2019, you have to dig a little deeper. Following the likes of The Babadook and Hereditary, Wounds also attempts to get under your skin and into your mind. Unfortunately, it barely touches the surface.
Will (Armie Hammer) is a Cool Guy. We know this for a variety of reasons: he plays video games, has a poster of 1966’s Blow-Up on his apartment wall, and snorts coke with best friend, Alicia (Zazie Beetz). When some college kids leave a phone in the bar in which he works, he discovers some disturbing images, and the comfortable life he leads with girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) begins to unravel.
It’s immediately clear that the script’s characters are probably far too young for the actors portraying them on screen. Hammer is only 33, but Will seems at least ten years younger; there are multiple references to that one time he dropped out of college, and Carrie still attends her classes — you get the sense that Wounds was written with the intention of casting those currently starring on CW’s shows. There is no sense of responsibility from anyone, and one wonders how Will and Carrie can afford their beautiful apartment on the salary of a bartender.
Other characters wander into the movie and then back out as if they never existed (the very talented Zazie Beetz is underutilized and underserved); the aforementioned college kids arrive at the bar towards the beginning of the film, but disappear shortly after. This wouldn’t be a problem if their motives were clear, but they spend the rest of the film merely taunting Will via phone. They may have an end goal, but the motives behind it are never established. If this was a story exploring how the actions of adolescents in scary movies affect not just them but also those around them, it would be far more interesting. Their actions seem intentional — we’ll just never know why.
Inexplicable as that may be, it is hardly the most baffling occurrence here. Reminiscent of last year’s generic Slender Man, the Will begins to experience flashing images in his mind, including a never-ending portal, severed heads, and eyeballs, yet somehow never feels the need to question them. In fact, both he and Carrie meet the bizarre happenings surrounding them with complete nonchalance — to often unintentionally hilarious results.
Most of the laughs in Wounds come from terribly written dialogue. Vague exposition is given via text messages (“We should have never messed with those books”), whilst the rest of its characters’ priorities are out of whack; for example, see the constant debating between Will and Carrie over the status of their relationship, whilst completely ignoring the dangerous predicament they find themselves in.
It may not be entertaining in the manner it wishes, but Wounds at least provokes a reaction in its laughs, as it certainly won’t in the scares department. Most of the horror comes from the dreaded jump scare, whether it be a cockroach flying out of a cupboard or a phone ringing; it’s almost impossible to fully iterate just how unoriginal the supposed thrills are. Nothing comes close to raising the hair on the back of the neck, and there’s a lack of interesting imagery to look at in the meantime. It’s strange to think that this is Babak Anvari’s follow-up to the brilliant Under the Shadow, a film filled with subtext and subtlety. Wounds is almost it’s complete opposite — a clumsy, inelegant, oftentimes unfortunately funny experience not worthy of its cast.
The BFI London Film Festival runs October 2-13. Visit the official website for more info.